I had read that Monarch butterflies were making a comeback. Sadly, this report in the Washington Post and other newspapers, it seems it was just a blip on the steady decline of the Monarch.
The number of Monarch butterflies making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 percent this year, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago, scientists reported Wednesday.
It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997. The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.
We’re solving the issue of logging in Mexico but the butterflies START in the North! We, North America and Canada, must do our part! To learn where to order milkweed plants, please see Part 1 of my Monarch butterfly blog series.
Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico, said: “The conservation of the Monarch butterfly is a shared responsibility between Mexico, the United States and Canada. By protecting the reserves and having practically eliminated large-scale illegal logging, Mexico has done its part.”
“It is now necessary for the United States and Canada to do their part and protect the butterflies’ habitat in their territories,” Vidal said. Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico, said: “The conservation of the Monarch butterfly is a shared responsibility between Mexico, the United States and Canada. By protecting the reserves and having practically eliminated large-scale illegal logging, Mexico has done its part.”
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to help save the Monarch butterfly by buying milkweed plants and placing them in your garden, what enjoyment might you get out of this activity? PLENTY!!!!!!! My entire family got into the process. As stated in part 1, once you find eggs, just wait for them to hatch. If you don’t won’t mother nature to take her course, remove aphids and beetles with long slender protruding mouth parts for they will eat the baby caterpillars. I know that’s vague but I can’t recall the name. I will find it, rest assured. Caterpillars seem to stay on/near the same plant unless your plants are very close together. Each day, have fun looking for and counting your caterpillars. It is fun to get a close look at their mouth parts while they are chewing the milkweed.
Once the caterpillars grow through several molts, they will be ready to enter the chrysalis stage. They are usually about two inches long and you may notice the caterpillar more often, sitting on a leaf but not eating. We have never observed Monarch caterpillars to attach in the chrysalis stage, to milkweed plants, not in the “wild” nor in our flower bed. Try to plant dense, green plants amongst your milkweed for the caterpillar to attach to. It will take some skill to find them as they are well camouflaged but your perseverance will be rewarded. David found one attached to the siding of the house! I also located one attached underneath our deck. So they can travel several feet hunting for the perfect place for their metamorphosis.
Once you find a chrysalis, you have several options. You can leave it where it is and observe daily. You will observe the color change as the wings are formed and the pigments begin to develop. Once the wings are very dark, you know eclosure is eminent. We did observe several butterflies in this fashion but you have to be diligent. It takes minutes for the process to occur.
If you would like to watch this amazing event in a more controlled and comfortable environment, you can very carefully remove the chrysalis and take it indoors. Using very fine tweezers, tug at the junction of the chrysalis and the surface to which it attached. Do not tough or squeeze the chrysalis! I took some fine sewing thread, and tied it to the very tip of the chrysalis which is like a tiny twig. You can then tie this to a stick. Put your new baby in a secure location and observe often. If you like, you can set up lighting and a video camera so you can video the birth!
If you would like to have the caterpillar in a more secure place, particularly important if you have pets, consider investing in a butterfly pavillion. The one shown here from Insect Lore is similar to the one we have. This one is 12″ tall. Our is probably 3feet tall but you don’t really need one that large. I will talk more about using this butterfly pavilion in Part 3 of my Monarch Butterfly blog series.
If you’re lucky, you see the chrysalis puff up. This action of filling it’s body with air, splits the casing. The butterfly then literally falls out of the bottom of the chrysalis and quickly grabs on to, lest it falls to the ground. (I’ve never observed that to happen).
It will take a few hours for the wings to dry. I suggest just sitting quietly and observing. It really is a magnificent experience! It is crucial not to touch the wings while they are wet. Once the butterfly begins to move about a bit, you can let it walk on your finger but try to keep the wings in a natural down position. They are extremely fragile and very heavy. Think how heavy a load of wet towels are! I would not let very young kids attempt this. Before long, the butterfly will attempt to fly. WARNING: this could happen to you. You are not in danger, ha ha ha! This butterfly actually landed on my chin, and proceeded to walk up my mouth, over my nose, onto my glasses before settling on my forehead. It is now time to move outdoors with your new friend. As the butterfly catches a breeze, it will take flight. It may rest up in a tree for a time so you can still observe it or it may be dry enough to begin it’s journey.
As this post is already exceeding most people’s attention span, including mine, it is now Part 2 of 3. I will discuss an alternate way of caring for your caterpillars when you want to take a caterpillar indoors either to protect it from predators or to watch the chrysalis-formation.